The history of Mexico City is a fascinating one, and it sheds light on the heritage that can still be glimpsed in the archaeological ruins in the Historic Center of the city, as well as the neighboring ancient town of Teotihuacan (pictured), an hour's drive outside the city. Visiting the Templo Mayor, the remains of an ancient temple, can give visitors a mesmerizing glimpse of Aztec history.
Modern Mexico City was built on the ruins of an Aztec city named Tenochtitlan. One of the most interesting facts about Mexico City is that when the Aztecs arrived in the Mexico Valley, they themselves became conquerors over the people who had lived in the valley for hundreds of years. In fact, the history of Tenochtitlan goes way back before the arrival of the Aztecs, when close to 100,000 people lived in the area later known as Tenochtitlan. After conquering the dominant city of the time, Azcapotzalco, the warlike Aztecs established Tenochtitlan as the base of their empire in the thirteenth century.
In Aztec history, Tenochtitlan became a commercial and administrative center with a reach that extended far beyond the Mexico Valley. It was a beautiful city filled with canals, gardens, huge temples, and palaces. Unfortunately, this golden period in Aztec history was not to last, for the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes landed a mere century later, in 1519. When the Aztec emperor, Moctezuma, welcomed the Spaniards with open arms, believing that Cortes was an incarnation of the god Quetzalcoatl, the fate of the city was sealed, and from that moment on, the history of Mexico City was shaped by the Spaniards for several hundred years. The conquerors drove out the Aztecs and destroyed Tenochtitlan, building a new city, Mexico City, upon the ruins of the old civilization.
One of the most unfortunate facts about Mexico City is that by the time the Spaniards raised the city as a major colonial city center, almost two-thirds of the native population of Mexico had been killed off by war and foreign diseases such as smallpox. The conquerors under Cortes used the riches they had plundered from the land and its people to make Mexico City one of the finest colonial cities, rivaling the cities of Europe for its beauty and architecture. Many of these artifacts of the history of Mexico City can still be seen, including beautiful churches, opulent colonial homes, and other monuments, many of can be found in the Centro Historico, the historic old city center.
Finally in 1821, Mexico won the War of Independence against Spain and once again became an independent country. Although unrest continued throughout the country for many years, Mexico City continued to thrive. Improvements in infrastructure and foreign investment made Mexico City grow and modernize, and it continued to be a major commercial center in the Americas. However, in one of the tragic facts about Mexico City, power and money was concentrated in the hands of the elite, leaving many of the inhabitants of the city, and the rest of the country, in abject poverty. This state of affairs could not continue, and the Mexican Revolution eventually redistributed power in the city. Far from dampening the growth of the city, however, the Revolution did not curb the rapid expansion of the city as it pushed into the twentieth century with such developments as the Metro system and the election of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the first democratically elected mayor of the city. Today, Mexico City is making progress on solving the problems of its rapid growth, such as explosive population growth and high levels of pollution, leading citizens and outsiders to hope for an even brighter future for the city.